Interview & Overview of Venice - A Kickstarter Highlight

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game

Venice is a Polyhedron Collider Kickstarter Highlight.  This means that from what we know of the game, we reckon it’s pretty bloody great, just how pretty, bloody or great is subject to change as games are want to do when they go through the Kickstarter process.

In this new look Polyhedron Collider Kickstarter Highlight we take a close look at a current campaign, peeking behind the curtain to discuss the design and development of the game with one of the designers (Dávid Turczi) and the publisher (Lewis Shaw from Braincrack Games) as well as giving you an overview of the game itself too.

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game in play 2 at UK Games Expo

Set in 16th century Venice you'll play as cutthroat merchants peddling your wares as you punt your gondola up and down the canals of the famous Floating City. Simply put this game has you moving about the city collecting the goods you need to complete contracts.

Contracts are worth victory points and the player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. However, this is a game designed by Dávid Turczi and Andrei Novac, so you can take "simple", stuff it into a bag along with some bricks before dropping it in the river, or more aptly the canal.  Simple, this ain't. 

That's not to say Venice is a heavy game, no, no.  As far as rules go it sits comfortably alongside its spiritual sibling, Ragusa.  Much like Ragusa where Venice becomes especially interesting is in the player interaction.   One of the key aspects of this is managing your Intrigue levels, you see, although you are, for all intents and purposes a fine upstanding business-person...let's just say you work in the import-export business. Each time you cross paths...canals, with another player you spread a little dirt about them and their "goods".  This increases your intrigue which is especially bad because the player with the highest Intrigue level is arrested at the end of the game and barred from victory.

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game in play close up at UK Games Expo

The other great piece of player interaction comes from how your workers level up.  Each time you dock at a building you can assign a worker there, in doing so they begin a specialised career in that field making subsequent visits far more efficient for you.  However, whenever another player assigns a worker to the same building, all previously assigned workers are promoted making them even better.

You'll also have to manage your income as travelling the canals costs money, you can build bridges and make use of special action cards but everything in Venice comes with a cost.

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game in play 4 at UK Games Expo

When we all played this at the UK games expo in June we loved it.  Okay, I didn't love it at the time because Steve, Andy and Jon are just f**king vicious. Be that as it may, Venice gave us plenty to think about, a myriad of strategies and possibilities, combos and routes, it has a fun and very underhanded style of player interaction and was quite simply a belting game.

Dávid and Lewis were kind enough to allow me to pepper them with questions.  Here is what they had to say:

Mechanically there are a lot of great things going on in Venice; pick-up-and-deliver, cascading worker activation, insidious player interaction, to name my favourites.  Was one of these central to your original design concept of the game and what was it about the city of Venice that drew these mechanisms together?

David: Many moons ago Andrei put a prototype in front of me, saying “I know it’s smart, it’s definitely a game, but people aren’t having fun. What would you change?” The game was roughly called “Carthage or some random roman city”, and it was a 4 by 4 square grid of locations, and players moved meeples on the “streets” between the square tiles. Each corner you moved through cost you one coin, and each time you met another meeple you both got an intrigue or paid a scroll. Some buildings produced resources when you landed on them, some turned different sets of them into victory points, and some had technology tracks on them that you advanced on, pushing anyone ahead of you up the track as well. There were some set collection missions granting you passive powers, and when a deck ran out the game ended, at which point people with intrigue lost victory points depending on how much less intrigue other people had.

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game Complete A Mission

So this game already looked like a “pick-up-and-deliver meets Lords of Waterdeep”, but it was missing three things for me to be fun: theme, tension, and build-up. Finding the first was easiest: if I pick up cubes from one building and take them to another, I want those cubes to be moving with my piece. And that’s much easier to represent with a boat than with a meeple, thus the game immediately moved from a generic Roman town to Venice. The second came from intrigue: I insisted the player with the most intrigue to be eliminated. The third was solved by trying out a lot of things regarding what the buildings can do, and then settling on the push-track mechanism already present in the original design and improving on it a bit by creating the “re-activation rule”: as you move past buildings you also get their benefits if your pieces are on that location already. With that the game’s focus shifted from the missions to the engine building - the real twist was that each player built their engine in a very public board, interactively, and triggering it via spatial thinking. 

So this is the story of how the game got to be in Venice, and how the central things for me have always been intrigue, the push-tracks, and the re-activation.

Regarding the signing of this game, was it a case of David approaching Braincrack with a “sequel” or was Braincrack on the lookout for a follow-up title?

David: I playtested Ragusa with Fabio (the designer) before Lewis signed it, so I was vaguely familiar with it. So when the third publisher rejected Venice with a combination of “spatial engine building is too unusual”, “well it’s still a pick up and delivery and nobody likes that”, and “why is it so cut-throat” - I went to Fabio and asked him how did he manage to get an originally 3-5 player, short but heavy, highly interactive euro resource collection game signed and patiently developed into a consumable 1-5 player game? He introduced me to Lewis in turn, and the rest, as they say … is history.

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game in play 6 at UK Games Expo

Lewis: “We knew we wanted something to follow in the footsteps of Ragusa. It just so happened that Dávid had been looking for a home for Venice for a while. Other publishers worried that it was too cut-throat, but we thought there was enough commonality with Ragusa to make it worth developing. Over time we managed to get it to a point where it was engaging for new players but still a challenge for experienced players, preserving the Intrigue mechanic that made it interesting, to begin with.”

Although Ragusa and Venice are very different, tonally they feel very similar.  Has this always been the case or has it been and iterative development process to achieve this?

Lewis: “In both games, most actions that you take, especially ones that would be passive in other games, drag other players into your turn. In Ragusa, it's always positive - I get a thing, and now you get a thing because you got there first. In Venice, there's good things (such as promoting someone else's assistant if they're above you at a building) and bad things (such as gaining Intrigue as someone sails past you.)

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game Intrigue Board

This makes for a table environment that's engaged - you don't want to look away when it's not your turn. In truth, these mechanics where there when Dávid pitched the game in 2018, but we look for these sorts of things in every game we publish. I think it's the combination of the mechanics and the themes that make Ragusa and Venice such a great pair.”

We played and (mostly) enjoyed Venice during the UK Games Expo in June. How has the game changed since then? (Basically, is there a "Rory Card"?)

Lewis: “At UKGE we were playing with different maps for different player counts. This was to accommodate for the higher numbers of boats - more docks, so people were more likely to be able to get where they needed to go. This approach, however, didn't account for Sod's Law - and a lot of turns people were finding they couldn't get to where they needed to go to keep their points engine turning.

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game Sharing A Space

There have been lots of changes since then, but the biggest improvement in terms of ease of play has been allowing people to share dock spaces - all this means is you stack your gondola on top and award points to anyone underneath (equal to how many boats are on top.) It makes it into a positive, consequential choice that the player makes if they go there, rather than 'all my options have dried up because someone stopped off to get some milk.”

David: Yes, there is a Rory card, called the Doge’s favour, but nobody needed it beyond their first game since, so we’ve added it in the rulebook as a variant suggested for new players, or to be used as a handicap.

Venice Mark's the sixth game from Braincrack Games and the first time you've created a game in sequence (to Ragusa).  Are there plans or hopes to continue this vein of light/medium Renaissance games?
Lewis: Have you been reading my emails?

David, can we call you Big Davy T?
David: Please don't :)

Kickstarter Highlight Venice Board Game in play 5 at UK Games Expo

Venice is live on Kickstarter from Wednesday 20th November 2019.

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